Even though I’m not big into sports, I’m a pro when it comes to spotting a bullying jerk. And Rutgers University head basketball coach Mike Rice is a prime example. Let me rephrase that. Rice is now the ex-coach of the New Jersey public university’s basketball team now that the school has finally seen fit to fire him. Pity it took public embarrassment today to get school officials to do what they should have done months ago.
In a video released by ESPN yesterday, Rice is seen verbally and physically abusing his players during a series of coaching sessions. He throws basketballs at them. He grabs and shoves them. And he hurls homophobic slurs at them when they don’t perform the way he wants them to. “You’re a f—–g fairy,” Rice yells at one player. “You’re a f—–g faggot.”
According to the Associated Press, “Athletic director Tim Pernetti was given a copy of the video in late November by a former employee. He suspended Rice for three games a month later, fined him $50,000 and ordered him to attend anger management classes.” ESPN reported that “University president Robert Barchi saw the tape and signed off on the initial punishment.”
Wait, so, five months later just the mere airing of the offending video was enough to fire the guy? Pernetti’s statement announcing the Rice sacking left me unsatisfied.
I am responsible for the decision to attempt a rehabilitation of Coach Rice. Dismissal and corrective action were debated in December and I thought it was in the best interest of everyone to rehabilitate, but I was wrong. Moving forward, I will work to regain the trust of the Rutgers community.
The attempt at rehabilitation would have been admirable had Rice not already been known to be a hothead. “Rice had a reputation as being ‘a fiery guy with an edge’ before coming to Rutgers and Pernetti said the two talked about it for five hours before he was hired,” the AP reported yesterday.
Talking to someone for five hours about his edgy personality was a red flag Pernetti should not have ignored. Watching a coach abuse his players is something a university president should not have ignored. It’s great school officials fired Rice. But given the grip certain sports have on some college campuses, I have no confidence they wouldn’t let it happen again.
Follow Jonathan Capehart on Twitter.